- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

GULBAHAR, Afghanistan The Afghan opposition opened a new airstrip yesterday, and its first users appeared to be a contingent of American advisers.
The airstrip, built with American help, is likely to serve as a forward supply base when troops begin a long-awaited assault on the capital, Kabul.
It is the only safe landing zone south of the Hindu Kush mountains available to the Northern Alliance.
The first flight into the airstrip was by a light aircraft with five passengers, all wearing photographers jackets and khaki trousers, said an American radio reporter at the scene.
They refused to say who they were and looked startled when questioned.
Security guards pushed away reporters and the hundreds of curious onlookers as the visitors sped away in jeeps with darkened windows, accompanied by a senior Afghan official.
The Afghan opposition reluctantly has acknowledged that teams of Americans have been inspecting the front lines.
The talk in the bazaar is that the American military disguise themselves as reporters blending in among the frontline press corps although serious photographers these days rarely wear the multipocketed jackets.
If the false reporters had hoped to arrive in secret, they were disappointed.
The airstrip crosses a main road and is surrounded by the homes of thousands of people, for whom the arrival of a plane was the most exciting thing to happen in years.
In Pakistan, a French journalist released over the weekend from a Kabul jail said the Taliban is filling its jails with anyone it suspects of supporting the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, or the Northern Alliance.
Michel Peyrard, a Paris Match reporter, was detained by the Taliban on Oct. 9 with two Pakistani journalists after sneaking into Afghanistan dressed as a woman.
He was handed over to Pakistani and French officials at the Torkham crossing point. He had been held for 25 days in one of an estimated six detention centers in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
"These centers are for political detainees whose numbers were growing all the time," Mr. Peyrard said on arriving in Peshawar. "There were clearly organized roundups taking place.
"The main prison in Jalalabad is full. I think there are now around 400 prisoners, compared to 150 on September 11.
"Anyone suspected of putting forward a possible alternative to the Taliban has been rounded up and put in prison," he said, adding that they included a significant number of supporters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an exiled Afghan warlord.
Mr. Peyrard said his Taliban captors seemed to be holding up well in the face of the air strikes. Despite some obvious fears during the initial days of the bombardment, the Taliban was now "totally calm."
While many had expected heavy blanket bombing, the feeling was that, in the case of Jalalabad at least, the U.S. strikes had been "extremely limited."
On the front lines north of Kabul, Northern Alliance commanders are talking confidently about an imminent offensive against the capital and planning to show off their military muscle with an exercise today.
"The right conditions are approaching. We hope that within two weeks, before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, we will have started the attack and have something good in our hands," said Younis Qanouni, the Northern Alliance interior minister.
Military specialists say the Northern Alliance suffers from serious shortages of fuel and ammunition and so far has received nothing from the United States.
But the airstrip, 50 miles north of Kabul, quickly could remedy that. It is designed to take Soviet-built Antonov-32 or Hercules C-130 aircraft, which are capable of supplying ammunition.
A nearby unused textile factory could serve as a base for American personnel.
The Northern Alliance, which controls less than 20 percent of the territory of Afghanistan, has long complained that the United States does not pay enough attention to it, having preferred to seek ways to remove the Taliban through Pakistan.
Mr. Qanouni said: "We cannot say we are satisfied with the level of cooperation with the U.S.
"We have the same goals the removal of the Taliban and of Osama bin Laden but we need to start a serious political dialogue."


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